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I wrote this almost two weeks ago. I wanted to be sure I wouldn't say something I will later regret and I also wanted to let my feeling calm down.


TL;DR

Just read the part about "So, where am I going with that?".


For an IPS user, I tend to ask a lot of questions. Some of them are received very nicely, some others... aren't.

I'm not talking here about people thinking that my questions should be closed, this is just fine - I have nothing against respecting the site's scope and if I missed it, I'm glad to hear it from other users so that I can improve in the future. I'm also not talking about people downvoting my questions, there is nothing I can do about personal taste. I'm talking about people answering my questions.
More specifically, I'm talking about people frame-challenging a question while being as delicate as a punch in the face.

Let's take one of my most recent question: Tactfully telling my cousin that she might do too many of the chores in her household (but, if you want more, just look at a question about veganism, autism, lgbt+, etc...).

How did I felt when reading the answers there?

For answer A, I really dislike the fact that they took for granted that this was none of my business. They have no idea what my actual relationship with my cousin is (none of you does because that's not something one can describe in so little words) and I really dislike people presenting things as facts when they are just opinions. But the rest of the answer was good enough (IMO) so I didn't downvote it.

I like answer B because they didn't make any judgment. They didn't say "don't do it, it's not your job to", they just took for granted that I knew what was my place or not, and they helped me find a way to carefully bring the subject.

For the same reason, I like answer C. They warned me about the fact that my judgment could be flown by several things and presented me with a technic I can use.

Answer D is the one that I found the most problematic. Like for answer A, they took for granted that it was none of my business but they also used a harsher language and made assumptions about me in which I absolutely don't recognize myself (no, I have no intentions of telling my cousin that her relationship with her husband is set up wrong, I just want to talk about this without infantilizing anyone).

Comparing to this previous answer, Answer E is much better. They did assume that I don't know my cousin well enough but they used a much softer language.


So, where am I going with that?

What I want to say is: if, when OP read an answer to their question, they feel angry and hurt, your answer is harmful and should really be edited to be nicer.

If, when reading an answer to your question, you get negative feelings, you will probably hesitate to ask other questions in the future.

This is not what we want.

We want people here to participate and ask more questions, not less! We want people here to feel welcome and safe, not scared by the answers they might get!

These problems create a climate of insecurity, on a site which very purpose is to help people the best we can. Right now, I'm seriously thinking about adding a note under all of my questions: "I don't care about your opinion, I only want facts". I'm also considering adding "Please trust me when I believe that the other person won't take this as an intrusion in their life". And the mear fact that I am seriously considering this tells a lot.

You know what else is problematic? The fact that, when someone answers my question, I fear what the answer will be and I always check who wrote the answer so I know if I have reasons to be afraid or not.

I talked about this with other users and I know that I'm not the only one tempted to add such note as a footer on their posts.

But, in my opinion what's written on those footers should be obvious the default, not the exception!

Also, I honestly think that some answers are written in such a harch way that they directly violate your "be nice" policy. Especially for the answers I listed at the end of my post.

Question

So, what do you think? Do you think this is a problem? What do you suggest we do about it?


Here is a list of some other examples:

"one doesn't go around giving unsolicited advice to family members" -> https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/13372/21067

"how hard would it have been to just let them" -> https://interpersonal.stackexchange.com/a/17881/21067

A lot of opinions in answer to this question, but very little real answers -> I have a crush on a coworker but won't act on it, how can I tell my boyfriend about it and that I'll remain faithful?


Related meta:


Note: I was hoping to write this post in a neutral way, using answers from various questions (not all posted by me) because this is a problem I have noticed too frequently (but almost always on controversial, NQH worth, questions). But it seems that I'm unable to remain neutral; emotions are at stake here. So, please, if you have other examples where you have noticed this problem, add it here (in comments or by editing the post).

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    FWIW, Stack Exchange's goal is to help many people having the same problem, not only the asker. This site is not really a personal help site. So, while the asker may disagree with some answers (or even get hurt...), the answers themselves may not be targeting the asker personally. – Andrew T. Feb 5 '19 at 17:25
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    One link that's important to this discussion, but that I'm not seeing here: To what extent do we respect the OP's request. IPS has had 'respect the premise' since it's early days, and everyone should feel free to leave that link in a comment to answers that neglect that. – Tinkeringbell Feb 5 '19 at 18:53
  • @Tinkeringbell I would argue that the answers I've seen to this question (and I haven't looked in a day or two so might be wrong) do "respect the premise" that the OP cares about her cousin and is worried about chore distribution. What some answers disagree with is that on its own, unequal distribution indicates a problem. – DaveG Feb 6 '19 at 0:01
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    You may want to add links to Answers A-E. The answer order is subject to change, so future readers might not know which answer you're referring to if there's no link. – Alex Feb 6 '19 at 16:15
  • @Alex I was told not to directly link to each answer. So this is done on purpose ^^ – Ael Feb 6 '19 at 16:17
  • Okay. But realize that when I open the linked question, the order the answers are displayed in corresponding to your letters is ACBED. So if I'm looking for the issues you describe with a particular answer I won't be able to find them because I will be looking at the wrong answer. – Alex Feb 6 '19 at 16:23
  • @Alex Feel free to talk about this in chat, that is where they told me to not direct-link to a specific answer – Ael Feb 6 '19 at 16:26
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I'm not sure there is going to be a strong, consistent way to regulate this. Hear me out, and let me know your thoughts -

As an answer-er you have to acknowledge that someone asking for help with interpersonal skills may not have the best idea on the direction they should proceed and that advice that contradicts their original intent may be beneficial for them. Inversely, as an author to a question, it's important to keep in mind that you may not be seeing the issue from the outside. Third person advice may be initially hurtful to hear, but may also provide useful insight. For these reasons, sometimes frame challenges are really valuable. Telling the OP that they shouldn't do the thing they are trying to do, and that they should try a different route, can be very important!

However... How that message gets told is another matter entirely. I, too, see tones in your example that would make me feel belittled. It's as though the bolding of certain parts of that answer are being used to say 'Are you an idiot? How could you think it's your place to take any action when it's "none of your business"?' But would everyone on IPS feel the same way as you and I? Maybe, maybe not.

SE already adheres (or should) to the "Be Nice" rule, and I feel that that's about as far of a stretch as we can take this. If someone's answer, such as the one you pointed out on your question, is not explicitly mean but is hurtful or feels neglectful of the details of your question, you should DV it, comment that it doesn't feel respectful of the details in your question (therefore, isn't a valid answer to your question), and flag it if necessary. Answers shouldn't make assumptions - like assuming you aren't close enough to your cousin to make your own decision on intervening or not. Answers that make untrue assumptions simply are not valid answers.

Personally, I feel that community edits to salvage answers that neglect the OP aren't worth our time, because it'd require rewriting the original answer into an entirely new answer - and quite frankly anyone who is writing answers in a way that belittles others shouldn't benefit from community edits that would earn them a higher reputation... they should be working on their own interpersonal skills to learn how to communicate their interpersonal advice to others.

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TLDR; I don’t think there is a problem conducive to altering guidelines and creating new rules. The system we have in place is designed to facilitate constructive responses and discourage or remove ones that are derogatory.

I suggest for the future we remember to evaluate how our language is phrased. There isn’t a way to please everyone, but polite and more delicate responses may make things easier for the OP: the one we wish to help.


Preface

I have actually experienced some of what you described myself on this site initially.

I’ve asked a question and received responses describing the way I had personally handled a situation that don’t exactly put me in a light of good connotations. It upset me and I had interpreted it as a negative judgment on my character and situation. It felt as if it wasn’t understood what I was going through and why the situation came to be the way it was.

Response Overview

First, let’s ask ourselves what exactly a good response considers.

I might say that a good answer is construed with the following properties:

  1. How the respondent understands the situation.
  2. What the respondent thinks the OP is best suited towards doing.
  3. Why the respondent thinks their solution is the right way to fix things.

That’s the essence of it; those three principles.

Notice how I say:

what the respondent thinks

That seems like an opinion doesn’t it? It very well is. And by itself it’s meaningless and no good to anyone.

Once it’s explained in further detail and attached to a noteworthy proof for its formation, it becomes something more. It becomes informed. It has a basis in logic and can therefore be interpreted with greater awareness.

Is the opinion’s reasoning always infallible and suitably conformant to the OP’s situation. No, not always. Does that mean the opinion would be invalid and not considered? Not necessarily.

For an opinion to be ‘invalid’ it would require another opinion to counter. That can be decided by the poster (of the question or answer), the community, or moderation / set guidelines.

Personally Directed

Sometimes opinions will even propose how the OP themself might have handled or developed their situation incorrectly. This can actually be completely fine. Why? Because sometimes the situation itself involves an INTRApersonal* or situational mistake. If well supported, this can be an interesting option to consider. When the respondent notices that, they try and be helpful by mentioning something else to consider you might not have before.

If a respondent does decide to inform of a potential flaw for a more personal context, I agree entirely that the delivery should be given as politely as possible. We’re talking about a living-feeling human and something quite direct and personal. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. But, remember, it’s impossible to please every single individual; we just have to try our best.

Despite all this could they still be wrong? Yes. Absolutely. In the chance they aren’t though, that could be an integral part to resolving the problem and sometimes necessary.

Final Ideas

Dissuading opinions or considered decisions based on conclusions the respondent obtains isn’t a fair thing to do if they’re founded within good reason and illustrated properly.

Sometimes people need to point out a possible character issue or just a general problem with the goal of the OP entirely to promote their idea on what the best solution for the OP might be.

If something is found to be incorrect, the questioner can use the voting/acceptance/flagging systems respectively; or, even better possibly, inform the respondent about a lack of information that wasn’t considered when they had formed their conclusions.

We need to remind ourselves as a community that these are real people and when we’re helping them with personal (either inter or intra*) situations, need to realize that they have feelings too. It’s not plausible to please everyone, but if we do our best I think answers will stand to help more.


*: intrapersonal skills are not supported on this platform; but sometimes the rare occasion involves consideration of them in an interpersonal context.

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    But don't you think that we should do something to make sure that answers are delivered in a nice way? If someone is saying "you are a stupid idiot for wanting to do this" and if someone else says "I believe doing this would be dangerous for reason X and Y", they are basically saying the same thing but the wording is a 100 time nicer in the second case. – Ael Feb 5 '19 at 18:29
  • About your edit, I just wanted to let you know that I tend to hate opinion (that's why I downvoted). It's fine on meta since I'm actually asking about opinion but on the main site? Nope. I'm being judge enough in my day to day life, I don't want judgments in here too. Also, we are here to provide expertise, not opinion. I know that opinion are tolerated in some answer who also provide expertise but I can't say that I like that. Yes, diversity of point of view is good. But opinion? I don't believe so – Ael Feb 5 '19 at 19:01
  • I think we don't have the same definition of "opinion". To me, an opinion isn't back up by anything at all. If it's backed up, then it's more than just an opinion. – Ael Feb 5 '19 at 19:30
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I think that we absolutely have a problem with how answerers respond to OPs here. I've seen on other stacks that ours has a somewhat poor reputation. It was in a comment (which I can't find/link to) but I've seen it said that the people who post on IPS tend not to have very good interpersonal skills. That's not good, and it demands a response.

Poor tone in answers is, I think, a huge part of this. I think that the other major part revolves around what rules and standards we've adopted here and how those are enforced, defended, and explained, but that's a separate issue (scaring off askers matters, but so does driving away answerers). I think that we have a few problems in trying to enforce these things, however.

  • We can't make anyone write in a certain mode.

Some people go way out of their way to directly accomodate others' feelings, even to a fault. Other people believe that the best way to help someone is to deliver their advice in strong words, even if those words shock somewhat. Mechanisms already exist to deal with this, namely downvotes and deletion.

They are not perfect, and they go from fairly weak in the case of votes to maximally strong in the case of deletion, and there isn't much ground in between. Outside of those, there will often be little we can do to make harsh post more agreeable. If an answer is that terrible, then deletion is preferable to changing the answer to what we might think it "should be".

  • Tone is notoriously difficult to express and understand well when delivered via text alone.

Given that most people here are essentially strangers to one another this problem will be particularly acute. Because topics here are often emotional I think that many people tend to over-read both questions and answers. Even a relatively mild critique, if phrased in an even mildly impolitic way, might absolutely feel like a kick in the face to the reader (please note: I am not trying to indicate that this was the case in any of the linked questions or answers).

We can't really deal with that, or even reliably identify cases where it will occur or has occurred. On the other side, an answer that's too obsequious might easily come off as sarcastic. When someone's interpretation of what you wrote is wrong, and they respond accordingly, that too can feel like an attack. It's unfortunate, but not every potential answerer that comes here will be perfect at expressing themselves exactly as they might wish.

  • We fundamentally cannot fall back on a "just the facts" approach here.

This is not StackOverflow, where the information-theoretical state of a problem can be known absolutely and tested against empirically. Anyone describing a problem they are having will, necessarily, omit some context and overemphasize some things. Anyone describing an answer will not be able to offer much in the way of a guaranteed effect, or a perfectly precise explanation of how and why things will unfold as they do.

It's all subjective and based on what we think we know about a situation based on how it was described by an imperfect observer. We have to make judgment calls about the situations described, the mental states and values of people we've never met, and other information which we cannot have in any objective, facts-only manner.

Considering the question linked at the top of this meta post, is there any reason to think that the reactions of answerers necessarily differed from how the cousin might react to the topic? If an answerer would feel/has felt infantilized by a certain behavior, it's not a problem for an answer to say so. It's useful-- at least one person felt that way, so it's worth noting that someone else might, too. That an asker might dearly want to do that very thing isn't necessarily bad, but being prepared for a negative response could be the most valuable advice they could receive (whether or not it distresses them).

"Assume that my information is perfect and that no one will have a negative reaction to what I want to do" is not a reasonable constraint to put on a practical question (even if that is the actual situation), particularly because it's not likely to be true. Judgmental statements don't fit well here, I agree, but the topics covered at IPS inherently require assessments of how acceptable, polite, rude, etc. different actions are. I'll state plainly though: personal attacks are never appropriate.

  • Some questions do involve "wrong" behavior, or goals/actions which are not really subject to good interpersonal skills.

(please note, again: I am not trying to suggest anything about any of the linked questions in saying this). I am thinking of one fairly recent question in particular (I'd like to avoid linking to it, if possible) featuring a goal which many here (including myself) interpreted as borderline stalking. I think that, in pursuit of good interpersonal advice, the poster of that question needed to hear that that was the impression people reading about the situation were getting. In my opinion a frame challenge was necessary there-- anything less would have been tantamount to giving bad advice. As SE doesn't really work for back-and-forth conversations in most forms, clearly indicating that in the answer is the only way to convey it.

This isn't going to be a nice, clear line, but we should be very careful to distinguish between a meaningful challenge to a question (or premises in the question) and a poorly or improperly expressed challenge to a question. But as we've discussed elsewhere unlimited validation of elements of questions will, at least sometimes, not be ideal.

  • It's the nature of this stack that people coming here to ask questions may have difficult, personal situations that they are dealing with, and they may be modestly lacking in interpersonal skills.

Those issues relate both to the questions that they ask and how they interpret answers. Some of the ideas or observations on which a question is based may simply be wrong, or very unlikely to be accurate as presented. To be good advice, and answer might need to address this, whether or not the asker feels challenged.

Similarly, it's not uncommon for people to want certain things to be true, and bake those desires into requests for advice, and then respond badly when those assertions are questioned. This meta post suggests that we start asking more of answerers here, and while I agree with that I also think that the assumption of good faith should apply to the asker's reading of answers as well.

  • The people that care about this issue are less likely to be the problem.

If 30 stack members spend a day to ask thoughtful questions and refrain from glib answers, there will still be one day's worth of less restrained answers from everyone else. There are probably behavioral improvements for many, if not all, of use to make, but at its core I fear this is a request for more (and more aggressive) moderation of answers in real-time.

  • Finally (wow! This has gotten long), the community aspect of the stack matters here, as elsewhere on SE.

If an asker has a goal which might be broadly viewed as "bad" by most people in the relevant location and social context, then a negative response from the community could be very valuable information. We should do everything we can to encourage sincere, good-faith questions here, but there will be at least some situations in which unlimited validation of a question and its premises may not be appropriate or desirable.

Importantly, nearly every single person who posts a question here will think that their question is appropriate and valid. The feelings of the asker matter, but shouldn't be the only criterion we use to evaluate appropriateness of tone.

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Self-answer, here I come!

So, here is what I believe we could and should do:

  • We should trust the OP

    • We should trust that OP as a good reason to do what they want to do and fear what they fear. If we don't trust that, then we should ask questions in comments.
  • If we don't trust what the OP is writing we should:

    1. Ask more questions before answering
    2. Be very careful and nice. Instead of saying "This is none of your business" I think it'd be better to say "Your interlocutor might think that this is none of your business"
  • We shouldn't make any judgment value (e.g: "you are being rude, mean, annoying, etc..")

  • Personal opinions should mostly be banned from answers. Judgmental opinions are not useful for answering questions from this stack and do more harm than good. Expressing your opinion about OP's issues will never, ever, help them solve them.

And, if an answer doesn't follow does guidelines, I strongly believe that she should be edited by us, the community. (Alternatively, we can ask the answerer for edit and delete the answer in the meantime).

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